Jumuah lecture delivered by Brother Bashier Rahim on 13 December 2019 at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
I remind myself and all of you present in today’s jumuah of the importance of having consciousness or Taqwa of Almighty Allah. Our weekly reminder of taqwa keeps us grounded to remember that on our own we are actually nobody and thus in this world we can’t just do as we please as it will lead to our ruin.
One of the very fascinating themes in the Quran is the various dialogues that are presented to the reader for deep reflection. Dialogues or conversations that occur on different levels.
Sometimes the dialogues referred to is between Prophets and the people or specific personalities that they are meant to guide. Like the dialogue between Prophet Nuh (a.s) and his people or the dialogue between Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) and Nimrud.
Sometimes the dialogues are between one Prophet and another Prophet. Like the one between Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s).
Sometimes the dialogue is between regular individuals with differing beliefs. Like in Surah Kahf in the story of the two men who appear to have been neighbours.
And there are many more levels of dialogues that can potentially be analysed.
But among the possibility most fascinating of all the dialogues is when it is between Almighty Allah Himself and one from among His Creation or a group from among His Creation.
We living in a time wherein leadership remains a buzzword on many levels that continues to be a challenge that we grapple with.
Whether it is in the political arena, or in the arena of government administration or in the arena of religious leadership in terms of qualifying criteria and how to relate to leadership, as a society we continue to struggle to be guided in this critical area of our lives.
LESSONS FROM THE APPOINTMENT OF THE FIRST KHALIFA ON EARTH
In the well known story of the creation of Prophet Adam (a.s) as the first man who was introduced to the Angels as the soon to be Representative or Khalifa of Allah, there are very important lessons for us to further reflect on from a different angle than we might have done previously.
Before the creation of Prophet Adam (a.s) it seems that the responsibility of being the Representative of Allah was actually offered to others. And the outcome of Allah’s dialogue in this regard in whatever form that dialogue occured is referred to in Surah Ahzab Verse 72:
اِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الأَمَانَةَ عَلَي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَن يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا
“Verily We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, and were afraid thereof”.
What is this “amaana” or trust that is referred to in this verse that Allah offered to the heavens and the earth and the mountains to bear?
There are numerous Ahadith giving various explanations for what this is but in relation to the most important aspect of what this trust or “amaana” is, we have a number of Ahadith from the Ahlul Bait (a.s) which indicate that the trust relates to Wilayah or being the carrier of the Divinely bestowed authority to be the Representative of Allah.
The heavens and the earth and the mountains, despite their huge physical size, they politely refused to carry this responsibility.
And this refusal was not out of arrogance (because in the other dialogue that we will still refer to there was also a refusal to do something but for very different reasons), but the refusal was due to an immediate realization that they actually don’t have the capacity to take on this responsibility. And due to this realization the verse says:
“and were afraid thereof”
The heavens, earth and mountains were very honest to themselves in terms of their capabilities.
This is a very important point to note. Before wanting to take on ANY job, especially a leadership position that involves high levels of responsibility, one should be honest with yourself and first genuinely ask are there others who are more capable than me who should rather do this job if they are willing to do so.
One should never be running after a job of leadership due to the material benefits it promises or the fame it supposedly can bring.
Imam Ali (a.s) has a lovely saying on this theme that requires much contemplation:
امير المؤمنين علي عليه السلام : رَحِمَ اللّه ُ امرَءً عَرَفَ قَدرَهُ وَ لَم يَتَعَدَّ طَورَهُ ؛
“May Allah have Mercy on the one who knows his limit (or value) and does not go beyond his limit”.
This does not mean we don’t need to venture into new territory in our careers or not seek new experiences to acquire new capabilities but we should at the same time know our position in the greater scheme of things and not cross our limit.
So for example a student of 1st year Hawza or 2nd year Hawza should know their value and position – they should not act like they students of year 10 and experts on Fiq and start throwing around fatwas.
Or for example a 3rd year medical student doesn’t go out to open a massive hospital.
So the heavens and earth and mountains knew their limitations and did not go beyond that.
ANGELS DON’T HAVE QUALIFYING CRITERIA
So now what happens if one thinks that he actually does have the ability to take on the huge responsibility of leadership?
This might very much be the case, but even then one should still be ready to do a reality check.
So the dialogue of Allah in relation to who will be His Representative changes to one with the Angels.
Allah informs the Angels firstly of only His future intention to place His Representative in the earth… the actual placement had not yet occured at this stage.
They immediately respond in a type of surprise and hence ask a question of clarity why the Representative of Allah is one who has the potential to commit mischief whereas they have the great attribute of making Tasbeeh or Glorification of Allah.
You see even in our human resource appointment processes we often get a long list of applications and then from there we choose a shortlist whom we will interview to actually finally choose the one to be appointed.
And the interview process itself is sometimes made of two parts where we firstly do an oral interview which some people are actually experts in getting through.
But then as part of the interview process, just to make sure that it is clear to the people on the shortlist who don’t get the job that they can’t come back and insist they should have gotten the job, we put them through a test to finally prove why we selected the final candidate AND to do background checks to prove that their original claims they made in their CV was genuine.
We really suffer from this in our country where people claim they have this and that qualification which ends up being fake and we have this and that experience which is not true.
Now in determining the shortlist “so to speak” of being the Representative of Allah, the Angels definitely make the shortlist as they had ONE of the qualifying criteria or prerequisites and that is to be absolutely obedient to Allah and never to go against His Will.
They thus claim that they only in a state of Tasbeeh of Allah all the time.
One may just wonder now as a related point why Allah originally offered the Responsibility to be Representative of Allah to the heavens and earth and the mountains. What prerequisite criteria did they have?
And the possible answer is that everything in the heavens and earth makes Tasbeeh of Allah – so they definitely had the prerequisite criteria as well.
Now by the way there was someone who used to hang out with the Angels who also believed he should get the job and on the face of it, it seems he apparently also had the prerequisite of being absolutely obedient to Allah.
And that one I am referring to is Iblis because at that stage he was already voluntarily worshipping Allah for 6000 years without any disobedience.
Nonetheless, obedience to Allah was an important prerequisite which the Angels had but did not ultimately get them the job.
ALLAH INTERVIEWS THE ANGELS
So now having made the shortlist, the interview process starts.
To demonstrate the capabilities of the Angels, Allah asks them a question to inform Him about certain Names and unfortunately they could not answer.
You know that feeling of sitting in an interview and after the first question you already know I am not getting this job! The question was just beyond me!
Then Allah uses the other candidate being Adam (a.s) to inform them of the Names and immediately they realize that they don’t have the final qualifying criteria which is knowledge which the other candidate had.
Some scholars say that Knowledge is maybe THE most fundamental of Allah’s Attributes and if one was going to be His Representative then he needed to have within him the unlimited capacity to acquire knowledge and the human being is the one with this ability and was thus made the Representative of Allah.
This is another important point to appreciate….the status of the one with the most knowledge!
And connected to this important point is that Allah asked Prophet Adam (a.s) to inform the Angels of the Names to expose his knowledge. He does not go about parading himself as the most knowledgeable.
And a true Aalim will never do that either. It’s upon us to realize and recognize who is most knowledgeable and appreciate that.
And that was the same approach of Imam Ali (a.s)…. that’s how he only became the 4th Khalif historically as people did not appreciate who he is and thus they all collectively suffered.
REACTION OF OTHER POTENTIAL CANDIDATES TO THE APPOINTMENT OF PROPHET ADAM (A.S)
Now just like we experience in day to day life, once an announcement is made of who has been appointed for the sensitive position of leadership, there is often mixed reaction.
And in the case of of Prophet Adam (a.s) it was no different.
The original candidates to whom this responsibility was offered to which was the heavens, earth and mountains, from hereon forth their relationship with the newly appointed Representative of Allah is to serve him! Please appreciate this point.
الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الأَرْضَ فِرَاشاً وَالسَّمَاء بِنَاء وَأَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقاً لَّكُمْ
“Who has spread out the earth as a resting place for you, and has made heaven as a canopy, and has sent down water from heaven, wherewith He brings forth fruits for your sustenance” (Surah Baqarah Verse 22)
The earth serves the new leader by providing comfort in the form of a place of rest and a source of his sustenance.
The heavens serve as a covering and shelter for him and a means through which water is provided which also ensures the sustenance of the new leader.
The mountains serve the function of stabilizing the earth which is meant to provide comfort to this new leader.
That’s the approach of the first group who originally were candidates for the job of Khalifa of Allah on earth.
Then look at the approach and reaction of the Angels. What is their approach to this new leader?
They don’t only serve him by protecting him, fascilitating his sustenance, etc. but they do something else for this human who is the Representative of Allah. What is that?
We read in Surah Shura Verse 5:
وَالْمَلائِكَةُ يُسَبِّحُونَ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّهِمْ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَ لِمَنْ فِي الْأَرْضِ
“and the angels glorify the praises of their Lord [with gratitude], and ask for forgiveness for those on the earth.”
In addition to serving the new leader, they pray for his forgiveness and in fact pray for him in general all the time.
So this is the reaction from the group that never got the role of Representative of Allah – they serve him to best of their capacity and they pray for him.
REACTION OF IBLIS TO THE APPOINTMENT OF PROPHET ADAM (A.S)
Then opposite to that is the reaction of Iblis to the appointment of the new Representative of Allah – he is infuriated and his true colours now come out.
Firstly, eventhough it is clear that knowledge is the defining ultimate criteria for the position of Representative of Allah, he completely bypasses this criteria and remains deluded to think that he is the best candidate for this position.
Thus he insists that he is better than the new Representative of Allah by presenting a false analogy claiming that it is his form in which he was created being fire instead of clay that makes him better.
And don’t we suffer from this today as well – we use matetial criteria and think that because we belong to a certain race or come from a certain physical location that we should be in leadership, yet we have limited or in fact very little knowledge.
Secondly unlike the heaven, earth, mountains and Angels, he refuses to serve and honour the Representative of Allah and thus does not make sajda to him when he is commanded.
We read in the Ahadith that he even tries to strike a deal with Almighty Allah by asking for exemption from making sajda to Adam (a.s) and promises to do everything else as commanded.
Through this act of arrogance he proved something else and that is that he did not even have the prerequisite criteria to be the Representative of Allah like the others had because his so called worship of 6000 years was all fake which was now exposed.
And thirdly, in reaction to the appointment of the new Representative of Allah, Iblis chooses to continue to keep a grudge against this new leader until this world ends by promising to lurk in his path to trap him and misguide him to prove that he should never have been appointed as the Representative of Allah.
And how satanic isn’t our actions towards leadership sometimes?
We often don’t appreciate their knowledge, we don’t honour them and we often focus all our efforts to only seek to highlight their faults to unseat them.
And so I remind myself first and all of you to always focus on having a life that reflects Angelic qualities and not satanic ones.
On the South African calendar we tend to give much importance to public holidays that reflects an important part of our history like Human Rights Day, Freedom Day, June 16, Heritage Day and Women’s Day.
But Monday 16 December is perhaps a more important day for all of us to focus yet it does not seem to receive the attention it deserves, partly perhaps due to people being in a holiday mood this time of the year.
16 December is a day of great significance in South Africa due to two historical events that took place. The first of these was in 1838, when the Battle of Blood River took place between the so called “Voortrekkers and the Zulus”.
The second historical event that took place on 16 December was in 1961, when Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was formed. This was the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), which was launched to wage an armed struggle against the previous apartheid government.
Historically this date had some meaning to both of these groupings regarding what liberation meant for them.
The question that desperately needs to be answered is how reconciled are we as a nation right down to the level of Muslim community.
Are we willing to actually reconcile or are we only interested to create stumbling blocks for reconciliation by going to court every week to fight a matter that can easily be resolved out of court – but our selfish attitudes course us to obstruct the process of reconciliation all the time.
When homeless people sleep on our streets they need to go to court to force a municipality to change their bylaws and not fine them for sleeping on the street.
This is just one recent example that reflects the division in our society.
The economic divide goes deep. Very deep.
What real reconciliation has ever occurred on this level other than creating another class of super wealthy from another race while the majority live the way they do?
And finally let me remind myself and you that Almighty Allah says in the Quran that Muslims are one Brotherhood, thus reconcile between your brothers. But the criterion that makes it work is Consciousness of Allah:
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ
“The believers are nothing else than brethren. So make reconciliation amongst your brethren and fear Allah” (Surah Hujarat Verse 10)
When we determine our goals for 2020 and strategise our plan of action, reconciliation of our communities to bring them closer on all levels needs to be a top priority.